The Coolest Cars of the '90s

Moulin Florent - 1998 Oreca GT2 Dodge Viper GTS-R Chassis #27 - 2015 Silverstone Classic

Moulin Florent - 1998 Oreca GT2 Dodge Viper GTS-R Chassis #27 - 2015 Silverstone Classic by Dave Rook (CC BY-NC-SA)

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Moulin Florent - 1998 Oreca GT2 Dodge Viper GTS-R Chassis #27 - 2015 Silverstone Classic
Moulin Florent - 1998 Oreca GT2 Dodge Viper GTS-R Chassis #27 - 2015 Silverstone Classic by Dave Rook (CC BY-NC-SA)

The Best of the ‘90s

As the ‘80s came to an end, auto sales were in the gutter. The ‘90s became a time for many automakers to focus on reinvention and, for some, reintroducing discontinued models and including features from past versions. The Japanese auto market surged in popularity and pricing, and The Big Three followed, making for a decade filled with eclectic and iconic rides that left their mark on automotive history. From supercharged engines to aerodynamic designs, here are some of the decade’s best; Cheapism pulled MSRP figures from J.D. Power to give you an idea of what these legendary rides cost. Let us know in the comments if we left out your favorite.

Related: Coolest Cars of the '70s

Mazda MX-5 Miata 1990
Bring a Trailer

1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Production Years: 1989-Present

MSRP: $13,800

The ‘90 Miata satisfied the cravings of car enthusiasts who had been longing for a sports car that went back to the basics and embraced simplicity. With a lightweight body, the option of an eye-catching soft-top layout, and a comfortable cabin, the Miata was a sought-after ride. One of the car’s most noteworthy features was the rear-drive powertrain and front engine. Powering the car was an electronic-port-fuel-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated for 116 horsepower and 100 foot-pounds of torque.

Related: Vintage Convertibles That Will Blow Your Hair Back

Ford Explorer XLT 1991
Ford Explorer XLT 1991 by RL GNZLZ (CC BY-SA)

1991 Ford Explorer

Production Years: 1991-Present

MSRP: $16,511

After the Bronco II fizzled out, Ford introduced the Explorer in 1991 in an effort to change the “sport utility vehicle” game. At the time, pretty much every SUV on the market focused on the utility aspect, lacking in comfort. For the introductory Explorer, Ford drew inspiration from passenger cars and created a utility vehicle that offered the coziness of a family wagon yet had plenty of room for passengers and cargo. Automakers everywhere took notice and revamped their lineups, skyrocketing the popularity of SUVs permanently. The Explorer in particular has been so coveted that later models appeared in the “Jurassic Park” movies, and Ford is still churning out models to this day.

Related: Most Popular Cars of the Past 50 Years

1991 GMC Syclone
1991 GMC Syclone by Scarlet Sappho (CC BY-SA)

1991 GMC Syclone

Production Years: 1991-1993

MSRP: $25,500

While pickup trucks are typically created for hauling and towing, GMC’s ‘91 Syclone didn’t live up to the same standards in terms of durability, but was instead an incredible performance vehicle. It wasn’t very useful — it could withstand a load of only 500 pounds in the bed and was capable of hauling only 2,000 pounds — but if drag racing was up your alley, this truck had your back. The supercharged S-15 pickup’s V6 engine cranked out 280 horsepower and its low-profile tires, all-wheel-drive system, and low ride-height helped it keep up with sports cars while discrediting it as a capable truck. GMC wasn’t trying to pass the Syclone off as something that it wasn’t; there was a warning label on the truck’s sun visor discouraging drivers from taking the vehicle off the pavement.

For more great auto stories, please sign up for our free newsletters.

1992 Jaguar XJ220
1992 Jaguar XJ220 by Sicnag (CC BY)

1992 Jaguar XJ220

Production Years: 1992-1994

MSRP: $572,072

The 1992 Jaguar XJ220 started as an after-hours project for designers and engineers that was so hush-hush not even the board knew about its development, and because the team didn’t have financial backing, the car took quite some time to create. Designed to be aerodynamic with a short front and a long tail, the ride was sharp, sleek, and smooth. It was originally supposed to have a V12 engine, but after taking environmental emissions into consideration, the V12 was replaced with a twin-turbocharged V6. Despite disappointing plenty of car enthusiasts who had their hearts set on the powerhouse V12, the V6 was no slouch — it made a whopping 542 horsepower and could go from zero to 100 mph in 7.9 seconds (reaching a max speed of 220 mph), making it the world’s fastest production car for a blip, until the McLaren F1 burst onto the scene shortly after.

McLaren F1 in Geneva, Switzerland
McLaren F1 in Geneva, Switzerland by Viggen (CC BY)

1992 McLaren F1

Production Years: 1992-1998

MSRP: $970,000

Plenty of other supercars were on the market in 1992, but the nearly million-dollar McLaren F1 made the biggest waves, and not just because of its hefty price tag. The car featured the world’s first carbon fiber frame and its engine bay was lined in actual gold leaf — seriously. Aside from its curvy, attractive design, notable features of the car included a middle-mounted driver’s seat and a six-speed manual gearbox. But the car lacked some common features despite its colossal cost, including power steering, anti-lock or power brakes, or traction control. Under the hood, the F1 had a 6.1-liter BMW V12 that cranked out a hair-raising 627 horsepower. Standard models could reach up to 231 miles per hour, snatching the title of the fastest production car ever produced from the Jaguar XJ220. Even though the ’92 F1 no longer holds that designation, it’s still a fan favorite among supercar fanatics such as Jay Leno, whose own ’92 F1 is worth at least $12 million.

Lamborghini Diablo 1993
Lamborghini Diablo 1993 by Carfanatic2019 (CC BY-SA)

1993 Lamborghini Diablo

Production Years: 1990-2001

MSRP: $230,000

With an aerodynamic front end and a wider rear, the ’93 Diablo had a sharp, distinct look. The two-door coupe’s engine was mid-positioned and delivered power to all four wheels. For power, the Diablo had a five-speed manual gearbox and a 5.7-liter naturally aspirated V12 with dual overhead cams. A true powerhouse, the supercar reached top speeds of 203 mph and could accelerate from zero to 100 mph in 4.9 seconds — faster than you can say “Ferruccio Lamborghini.”

1993 Toyota Supra
1993 Toyota Supra by Lav Ulv (CC BY)

1993 Toyota Supra

Production Years: 1993-2002, then 2019-Present

MSRP: $39,900

The 1993 model year welcomed a complete overhaul of the Toyota Supra, leaving the classic design behind and introducing a new, modern body style. The Supra’s signature pop-up headlights were also replaced with a more conventional style. But the body wasn’t the only part of the Supra that got a makeover — Toyota implemented a boost under the hood with a 3.0-liter 6 cylinder engine that cranked out 220 horsepower.

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area
Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area by Bureau of Land Management California (None)

1994 General Motors Hummer H1

Production Years: 1992-2006

MSRP: $39,750

AM General first made M998 Humvees as military vehicles, inspiring General Motors’ Hummer H1. The H1 was a civilian off-road vehicle notorious for its massive size. The tanklike utility vehicle boasted 16 inches of ground clearance that could be enhanced further with oversized tires and aftermarket suspension. The ‘94 model was powered by a 6.5-liter GM diesel V8 motor and had extra-wide track width, making it the ultimate rugged off-road vehicle. How did such a monster make it from the battlefield to the street? Look to Arnold Schwarzenegger. While filming “Kindergarten Cop” in 1990, production brought in a convoy of Humvees for a scene, and Schwarzenegger was instantly enamored. “He just went ape for that machine. I mean, it was big, it was unique, and it was something that was larger than him,” said his agent, Lou Pitts, in the movie-turned-politician’s biography “Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Ultimately, Schwarzenegger convinced General Motors to conceptualize the H1, and according to MotorBiscuit, became the first person to own both gas and electric versions of the iconic ride.

1995 Porsche 911 Carrera
Heritage Images/Contributor/Getty

1995 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 3.8

Production Years: 1995-1996

MSRP: $66,775

Porsche is known for making some seriously elite rides, and the ‘95 911 Carrera RS 3.8 fit right in. With a distinctive rear wing, 18-inch wheels, and small front flaps, the ‘95 model was a lightweight follow-up to the 993 Carrera generation. Powering the 911 was a naturally aspirated 3.8-liter engine rated for 300 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque — which felt like lightning considering the car weighed only 2,800 pounds.

1995 Ferrari F-50
1995 Ferrari F-50 by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1995 Ferrari F50

Production Years: 1995-1997

MSRP: $487,000

Created to commemorate Ferrari’s 50th anniversary, the ’95 F50 is one of the automaker’s most legendary rides, and also the closest Ferrari had come at the time to creating a Formula 1 car feasible for the street. Even still, the car didn’t have power steering or power-assisted brakes; what it had instead was a sophisticated, aerodynamic design and carbon fiber frame. The F50 stayed true to the essence of Ferrari with sharp lines and a lustrous body, and it showcased gaping radiator outlets on the hood. Doing justice to Ferrari's reputation for speed, the supercar’s V12 engine cranked out 520 horsepower, reaching a teeth-chattering top speed of 202 mph.

Mazda RX7
Mazda RX7 by FotoSleuth (CC BY)

1996 Mazda RX-7

Production Years: 1978-2002

MSRP: $28,712

Mazda’s ’96 RX-7 had a slick, slightly curvy, hatchback three-door coupe body style with a front engine and rear-wheel drive. It had a five-speed manual powertrain and coveted twin turbos to give it a little extra oomph. Not to mention that its 79.8-cubic-inch motor pushed out 238 horsepower and 218 foot-pounds of torque.

1997 Chevrolet Corvette
1997 Chevrolet Corvette by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1997 Chevy C5 Corvette

Production Years: 1997-2004

MSRP: $37,495

In 1997, Chevy ended the 13-year production span of its C4 Corvette and introduced the C5. There’s been plenty of chatter ahead of the C5’s unveiling, so it caused quite the uproar upon hitting the streets. The C5 had a sophisticated look and embraced a more modern, elegant design. The car was redesigned with aerodynamics in mind and a steeper windshield; the interior was overhauled to be roomier. Corvette enthusiasts in particular gravitated toward the C5 because it had the signature fender gills behind the front wheel well — a feature that was present on the 1956 ‘Vette. A 16-valve small block V8 motor powered the ‘97 C5, clocking in a hefty 450 horsepower.

Moulin Florent - 1998 Oreca GT2 Dodge Viper GTS-R Chassis #27 - 2015 Silverstone Classic
Moulin Florent - 1998 Oreca GT2 Dodge Viper GTS-R Chassis #27 - 2015 Silverstone Classic by Dave Rook (CC BY-NC-SA)

1998 Dodge Viper GT2

Production Years: 1998

MSRP: $66,500

The 1998 Dodge Viper GT2 was built to commemorate the prior year’s GTS-R race version, which won the Team and Driver title in the 1997 FIA GT2 class. The car became a legend in its own right. The GT2’s V10 engine was rated for 460 horsepower and, since the car was lighter than its predecessor, its speed was all the more amplified. Dodge made and sold only 100 units of the GT2 for road use, making the ride even more unique.

VW New Beetle
VW New Beetle by Alan Levine (None)

1998 Volkswagen New Beetle

Production Years: 1998-2011

MSRP: $15,200

The ‘98 Volkswagen New Beetle was met with fanfare because the line had been discontinued in the US since the ’70s. The New Beetle married contemporary styling with retro features, embracing several elements from the original Beetle: sloping headlights, separate wings, large round tail lights, and its signature high-rounded roofline. Volkswagen focused more on the nostalgic vibe the New Beetle harnessed as a selling point rather than what was under the hood, though — the car’s 2.0-liter 4 cylinder engine was rated for only 115 horsepower.

Related: 22 Most Popular Volkswagens of All Time

1999 Nissan Skyline (R34) GT-R
1999 Nissan Skyline (R34) GT-R by Alexander Migl (CC BY-SA)

1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R

Production Years: 1998-2002

MSRP: $45,606

The 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R was downright nasty — in a good way. It had a prominent spoiler on the back of its sleek, two-door coupe body, a six-speed manual powertrain, and a 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged engine that churned out 280 horsepower, although it was once dynoed at 330 horsepower.